By Lenore Fedow
The Retail Industry Leaders Association, which represents Target, Home Depot and other major retailers, wrote a letter to U.S. governors requesting they issue “concise, statewide” safety protocols, including mandating the wearing of masks in stores. (Photo courtesy of Engin Akyurt)
New York—The Retail Industry Leaders Association, which represents Target, Home Depot and other major retailers, is calling on the governors of all 50 states to require customers to wear masks when shopping or in public spaces.

In a letter to the National Governors Association, RILA stressed the need for a “uniform approach” to safety measures, like wearing masks and social distancing, and said the “patchwork of local mandates” makes it difficult for retailers to implement safety protocols.

“While well-intended at the time, conflicts stemming from local law enforcement agencies applying their own interpretations of conflicting state and local mandates forced retailers to shift valuable time away from store operations,” the organization said.

The letter asked governors to issue “concise, statewide orders” to avoid confusion and reduce conflicts between employees and customers.

Only half of jewelers said they’re requiring customers to wear a mask inside their stores, according to a recent survey by InStore magazine.

Many of the respondents who required masks cited concern for their employees.

“As we have staff in their 70s and 80s, we feel that it would be counterproductive to put them at risk just for a potential sale,” said Rex Solomon of Houston Jewelry in Houston, Texas.

Some have faced pushback from customers, including Solomon, who said some customers had refused to enter the store until employees removed their masks.

Others in the InStore survey in the “yes” category opted to let the customers decide.

“It is highly recommended, but not mandatory. We do offer masks for those who don’t have one, but we don’t force the issue,’ said Kirsten Reynolds of Windsor Gallery in Salisbury, North Carolina.

Several jewelers who said they do not require masks cited giving customers the freedom to choose as a reason, while others feared losing a potential sale.

“Last week, I would have lost a $400 sale if I had mandated masks,” Loann Stokes of Stokes Jewelry in Stillwater, Minnesota told InStore.

Reports of customers refusing to wear masks in a variety of stores across the country have piled up in recent weeks.

In its letter, RILA pointed to “troubling incidents” on social media involving “aggressive customers” refusing to wear masks.

“Despite compliance from the majority of Americans, retailers are alarmed with the instances of hostility and violence front-line employees are experiencing by a vocal minority of customers who are under the misguided impression that wearing a mask is a violation of their civil liberties,” said RILA.

A video surfaced last month of a man forcing his way into a Walmart store in Florida, pushing an employee after he was denied entry without a mask.

“We strongly recommend store employees not be charged with primary enforcement of mask mandates and that retailers not be fined for a customer’s non-compliance,” the association said.

RILA said keeping retailers open is dependent upon people observing social distancing and other recommended hygiene practices.

While the effectiveness of wearing face coverings was “ambiguous” at the start of the pandemic, said RILA, the impact now is “abundantly clear.”

The organization released a blueprint for safe shopping in May, outlining an approach to reopening that would meet its three criteria: protecting the community, a safe reopening of retail, and the establishment of “clear expectations” for employees and customers.

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